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Microsoft embraces Linux 'cancer' to sell Windows servers

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Microsoft is embracing 'cancer' to help ensure Windows survives server-room consolidation.

The company has released 20,000 lines of Windows kernel code under version two of the GPL. Microsoft called the license it once hated "the community's preferred license".

How things have changed. Back in 2001, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie described the GPL as a threat to users' intellectual property and the independent commercial software sector.

The great majority of Linux is licensed under GPL, and about the same time as Mundie was sounding off, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer called Linux a "cancer".

Linux aficionados welcomed the move. Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin is reported to have said he was "tickled" by the surprise move.

"Hell has frozen over, the seas have parted," Zemlin said.

Monday's code drop includes three Linux device drivers to enhance the performance of Linux running as a virtualized guest on Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Microsoft's code will be made available to the next Linux public tree release in the next 24 hours and will become part of the 2.6.30.1 stable release.

It's not clear whether the code is part of the already released Linux Integration components.

On Monday, Microsoft explained the move in terms of helping customers reduce the cost of deploying and managing their IT infrastructure by using server consolidation.

Certainly, Microsoft's worked hard in the last few years to improve the performance and integration of Windows with important and popular open-source technologies.

Among these, Microsoft signed an interoperability agreement with Red Hat in March. That would allow operating systems from one to run on the hypervisors of the other.

But Red Hat is clearly the leading Linux distro in the server room and offers Microsoft the most competition.

But clearly, Microsoft wants customers to consolidate on Windows servers in the data center, rather than have them deploy and manage Linux in addition to Windows or pick Linux instead of Windows. Making Linux a welcome guest on Windows should help. Also, running Linux on the already free Hyper-V makes Microsoft's virtualization even more appealing than VMware from a price perspective.

Today's code giveaway came after chief operating officer Kevin Turner told partners that Microsoft is now measuring itself in terms of market share and competing to win.

The lengths to which Microsoft is willing to go in order to win are demonstrated by fact its country level subsidiaries have been authorized to cut their own deals with wavering customers without looping in Redmond. These "deal factories" have the power to expedite negotiations, The Reg revealed.

Significantly, senior director of Platform Strategy Sam Ramji said in a scripted Q&A about the 20,000-line-code drop that customers are turning to Microsoft "more frequently" to help them succeed in a heterogeneous technology.

"So there's mutual benefit for customers, for Microsoft, and for commercial and community distributions of Linux, to enhance the performance of Linux as a guest operating system where Windows Server is the host," Ramji said.

It's worth noting that the Linux Driver Project lead is Greg Kroah-Hartman, a programmer with Novell, which signed an interoperability and patent protection agreement with Microsoft in November 2006. ®

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